Tooth gems surfaced in popular culture in the ’90s, with celebrities popularizing the accessory, and paving the way for current artists like Rihanna, Rita Ora and Halsey who have recently been seen sporting them. But this accessory’s roots are said to extend back to 300 AD, when Mayan leaders adorned their teeth in semiprecious stones.
According to National Geographic, one of the first instances of tooth gems was found in a Maya tomb of an adult male believed to be a king. The British Dental Association noted that this was done by drilling holes in the enamels of Mayans and placing “stone inlays” in the cavities.
“Trends tend to circle back every twenty years,” said Tamara Takacs, founder of Twinkles, a Miami tooth gem and whitening service. Takacs related the recent comeback in popularity to self-care trends, calling tooth gems “a version of self-care in which people can get a service done for themselves.”
Centuries later, these installations no longer involve such harsh processes. Instead, licensed artists like Takacs bond gems to the outside of the client’s teeth with the same adhesive used to put on braces. The application is painless and takes a few minutes, Takacs said, with results that last from six months to a year.
Prices range from $50 to $500, depending on the material and style. Takacs does everything from 18 karat gold to Swarovski crystals and diamonds. Over the past few years, she said, clients have gravitated towards popular designs like the Nike swoosh, the playboy bunny logo and dollar signs.
Some students have even taken to learning the art themselves to keep up with the trend. “I’ve see them a lot on social media,” said University of Miami sophomore Kiyah Ivey. “They’re a really cool, yet subtle way to accessorize your smile. They’re not as flashy as grills, but just the right amount of sparkle.”
UM junior Emily Bennett is currently sporting eight tooth gems. “The gems are an inexpensive way to get iced out teeth without having to get a full-on grill.” She said first tried the gems two years ago after noticing others flashing sequined smiles on a trip to California. Now, she likes to accessorize with a new set every year. Bennett said her roommate even sparked an interest in the accessory and invested in a gem kit when she could not find a tooth gem business near her hometown.
words_anjuli sharpley. photo_nailah anderson. design_keagan larkins.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2021 print issue.